100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 1

The most corrosive piece of technology that I’ve ever seen is called television…but then again television at its best is magnificent.  –  Steve Jobs

 

 

I’ve always believed in God’s perfect timing, and have to say that with everything that has occurred recently in the world in general and The Manoverse specifically I am thankful for the distraction and the opportunity for a bit of levity. A platform like this can be many things…informative, entertaining, provocative, cathartic…for the reader as well as yours truly. Some folks paint. Others play music. Those blessed with a healthy metabolism pour out their sweat at the gym. I write. Throughout the near decade of The Manofesto’s existence I have endeavored to strike a balance between profound & frivolous, but oftentimes feel unsuccessful in that mission. For the next few days we’re going to skew toward fun because I think we could all use some of that right now. If you haven’t read the intro please go back and do so now. Otherwise…enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

100   Sheriff Jack Carter (Eureka)

It is likely that you missed out on the quirky Eureka a few years ago, a SyFy series about a secret government project in which an entire community in the Pacific Northwest is populated by geniuses. The one exception?? Single father Jack Carter, who is chosen to be the sheriff of Eureka. But, though his IQ is just average, Sheriff Carter uses good old-fashioned horse sense to figure out the bizarre calamities that tend to befall the town on an unnervingly regular basis. Eureka lasted for five seasons from 2006-12, and I must admit that I lost track of it in the final year or two. It was a show just a little ahead of its time, as I could see it being pretty successful nowadays if it aired on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon. Sheriff Carter stands out because a) he is a regular guy amongst all of the eccentricity surrounding him, & b) despite lacking the intellect of the others he exhibits more warmth, personality, pragmatism, & sincerity than most of the brainiacs, making him relatable to viewers.

 

99     Cody Lambert (Step by Step)

Step by Step is a 90’s twist on The Brady Bunch starring Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing on Dallas) & Suzanne Somers (Chrissy on Three’s Company). Dad’s nephew pops in during the first season and sticks around, living in a van in the family’s driveway. Cody is a hippy dippy valley boy that no one seems to get, but he’s too oblivious to understand that. He is portrayed by Sasha Mitchell, who had previously played Duffy’s nephew…James Ewing…on Dallas. Though he may be quite versatile as an actor Mitchell was quietly booted from the show in its 4th season after being accused of domestic abuse (the charges were later dropped). As a show Step by Step was an amusing yet bland offering typical of the kind of kid-friendly sitcoms ABC churned out in the 90’s (Full House being the most famous example), and was meant to mark big TV comebacks for Duffy & Somers. However, it was Cody Lambert that stood out from the pack.

 

98     Hank Hill (King of the Hill)

You may be surprised to know that I could probably count on one hand the number of episodes that I have ever watched of three decades old animated sitcom The Simpsons, so you won’t be seeing Bart or Homer on this list. It’s been so long ago that I don’t even recall why High School Me never became interested in that show. However, its success gave rise to similar programs, one of which is this late 90’s program that lasted for an impressive 13 seasons (full disclosure…my interest faded about halfway thru that run for some reason). Hank Hill is the patriarch of a middle class Texas family and the assistant manager of a propane store. I like Hank because he’s just a regular guy, an old-fashioned conservative with a strict moral code who is befuddled by the craziness that surrounds him. Unlike so many sitcom Dads he isn’t a total fool with a wandering eye and poor parenting skills. He’s not buff & sexy, but his wife loves him anyway. Hank Hill is exactly the kind of citizen in “flyover country” that the socio-intellectual elites in certain cultural epicenters like to ridicule, but as Jimmy Stewart once said, such folks “do most of the working and paying and living and dying” in this country, and occasionally it’s nice to see pop culture acknowledge that fact.

 

97     Lowell Mather (Wings)

Wings is an underappreciated 90’s sitcom from the same folks who created Cheers and Frasier, about two brothers operating a small airline on Nantucket, a small island that is part of Massachusetts and is where that girl in all the dirty jokes hails from. One of the employees at Sandpiper Air is airplane mechanic Lowell. He is a dimwitted sad sack, especially after he discovered his wife cheating on him & his houseboat got sank, but he usually has the best one-liners. When the actor decided to leave the show during its 7th season Lowell is forced into witness protection after seeing a mob hit, a plot that only skillful sitcom writers could make funny.

 

96     Topanga Lawrence (Boy Meets World)

Okay, I’ll admit it…I’m a dirty old man that thought Topanga was kind of hot in the latter seasons of Boy Meets World. Aside from that though, she has a cool name (taken from a real life canyon between Los Angeles & Malibu), she’s got a hippie/New Age vibe that I’d find irritating in reality but works really well in a sitcom, & is the kind of girl that stays true to herself and doesn’t back down from a challenge. JK Rowling got the inspiration for Harry Potter in 1990 and published the first book in 1995. Boy Meets World premiered in 1993. Hermione Granger reminds me more than a little of Topanga Lawrence. It does make one wonder…..

 

95     Steve Urkel (Family Matters)

Trust me ladies & gentlemen, I debated whether or not to leave him out just on principle, because it’s probably a damning indictment of our culture that Urkel was ever a thing. But he was a thing, and I cannot in good conscience ignore it. Family Matters was supposed to be a spinoff of Perfect Strangers centering on the Winslow family…elevator operator Harriet, policeman Carl, Harriet’s sister & nephew, Carl’s elderly mother, and Carl & Harriet’s two kids Eddie & Laura. But during Season 1 nerdy next door neighbor Urkel popped over for a visit and the rest is history. The show lasted for nine seasons, but the truth is that without the inexplicable popularity of Urkel it probably wouldn’t have made it half as long.

 

94     Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, & Miranda (Sex & the City)

For the first fifteen years of the new millennium The Bachelor Palace had HBO, until I discovered that Netflix was less expensive and way cooler. During those years I enjoyed…to varying degrees…watching shows like Lucky Louie, Entourage, Six Feet Under, The Mind of the Married Man, & Big Love. And, while I skipped acclaimed mob drama The Sopranos, I somehow became enamored with Sex & the City. It doesn’t feel right to rank one character over another, as they have their individual charms. Writer Carrie Bradshaw is the centerpiece & narrator. She’s a somewhat vain fashionista, but can also be sensitive & thoughtful. Samantha Jones is an oversexed & outspoken PR executive. I definitely wouldn’t call her a role model for women, but I guess her confidence could be considered…inspirational. Charlotte York is a perky yet timid WASP who works at an art gallery. She’s much less shallow & jaded than her pals and eventually finds happiness with her Jewish divorce attorney. Miranda Hobbes is an uptight & cynical lawyer. She has an on again/off again relationship with a nerdy bartender named Steve, with whom she shares a child. There was a brief moment in time, at the height of the show’s popularity, when I felt like there were too many women watching this show and trying to emulate these four characters, with the issue being that they are a) so far away from reality it’s laughable, & b) not really the kind of people that anyone should ever model themselves after. Having said that, their influence cannot be denied and I can understand why they might be considered pop culture feminist icons.

 

93     Bill McNeal (NewsRadio)

Y’all know that I consider NewsRadio to be one of the more underrated sitcoms of the past couple of decades. Its biggest star was arguably SNL alum Phil Hartman, whose portrayal of a conceited blowhard news anchor is hilarious. Despite his arrogance Bill isn’t nearly as intelligent as he’d like people to believe, and he oftentimes treats his colleagues dismissively though he seems to think of them as close pals. Hartman’s tragic death in 1998 was also a fatal blow to NewsRadio, which had to fill the gap in the cast with Jon Lovitz in the fifth season, which…not surprisingly…was its last.

 

92     Flo Castleberry (Alice)

Kiss my grits!! That refrain from the most opinionated waitress at Mel’s Diner still has staying power forty years later. Flo left Alice halfway thru its run to star in a spinoff, but that show only lasted two seasons.

 

91     Mary Katherine Gallagher (Saturday Night Live)

Saturday Night Live has had a plethora of humorous recurring characters in its four+ decades, but only a few really stand the test of time. Mary Katherine is an apparently bipolar Catholic school girl with rage issues and poor social etiquette. She habitually puts her hands in her armpits then smells her fingers, recites Shakespeare-esque monologues quoting obscure movies & TV shows, crashes thru furniture, and then plays it all off by triumphantly declaring herself a “”Superstar!”. The character got its own standalone film in 1999, but I never saw it, and judging by its 32% Rotten Tomatoes score one can assume I’m not missing anything.

 

90     Al Bundy (Married with Children)

Married with Children began a wave of change in sitcoms as they evolved from the fairly wholesome & charming shows that I grew up with and began to embrace a more lewd, harsh, & cynical vibe. Even as a teenager I understood this transformation and didn’t particularly care for it, so I never became a fan of the show. However, thru the prism of time and after running across video clips here & there the past few years I have to give credit where credit is due…Al Bundy is pretty hysterical. A terrible husband?? Yes. An awful father?? Sure. A bad employee?? Obviously. Al certainly is no role model, but I get why fans of the show think he was really funny. If you see a dysfunctional family or poor parent on TV today they owe it all to Married with Children. Perhaps that’s not the most positive legacy…but it’s something.

 

89     Eric Matthews (Boy Meets World)

Feeny? Fa-fa-fa-fa-feeny! Feenay! Fee-hee-heenay!

In one hilarious instant The Feeny Call became legendary and Eric Matthews…the older brother of Cory & a supporting character no one expected much from…bellowed himself into television history. In another episode…set in a future where Cory & his pals have drifted apart…Eric shows up as a bearded hermit calling himself Plays With Squirrels who has figured out the secret of life, which is apparently “lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself”. I quickly lost interest in the sequel series Girl Meets World a few years ago (not that I was the target demo anyway), but perhaps if they’d done a spinoff featuring Eric it would have been more successful.

 

88     Dr. John Becker (Becker)

From 2006 to 2008 my life was pretty much put on hold due to an ulcer on my tailbone. I’ve spoken of it at other times here at The Manofesto so I’ll skip all the specifics now. At any rate, during that time I watched a lot of TV and discovered Becker, which had aired on CBS for six seasons from 1998-2004. I always enjoyed Ted Danson on Cheers, so I’m not sure how I missed his big television comeback, but atleast it was there for me in syndication a few years later. The titular character is a doctor who runs a small practice in The Bronx. Dr. Becker is a grumpy malcontent who is easily annoyed by just about everyone & everything, but underneath his constant state of irritability he’s a good guy who does whatever he can to help his patients & his friends. I’m not sure I’d actually get along with someone like Dr. Becker since he leans left and seems to be an atheist or atleast agnostic, but I’m all in on his bewilderment at the craziness & stupidity one seems to run across all too often nowadays.

 

87     Endora (Bewitched)

For various reasons I am a little hesitant to give any sort of kudos to a witch, but let’s be honest…Endora was pretty cool. She is a unique interpretation of the stereotypical mother-in-law, as her entire purpose on the show seems to be to disapprove of her daughter’s marriage to a mortal and make lame attempts to break up Samantha & Darrin (who she constantly insults & always calls Derwood). Of course her schemes hilariously backfire.

 

86     Mr. McMahon (WWE)

Let’s take an excursion off the beaten path. Yes I am aware that professional wrestling is pre-determined & choreographed. It is a soap opera for men. And I realize that everybody involved…wrestlers, announcers, managers, referees…is playing a character. But, though it would be a gargantuan task and detract from our mission to get into evaluating the merits of the dozens of unforgettable grapplers that have stepped inside the squared circle in my lifetime, we need to recognize the owner & CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. Vince McMahon bought the WWF from his father in 1982 and was known to most “marks” simply as a TV commentator. But in 1997 he inserted himself into storylines as a “heel”, basically portraying a larger-than-life version of the kind of evil boss that we’ve all had at one time or another. In the past two decades he’s been booed & cheered, gotten in the ring and mixed it up with wrestlers twice his size & half his age, and even battled his own family. These days wrestling fans often question Vince McMahon’s behind the scenes decisions, but Mr. McMahon can still get a good pop from the crowd, especially since his appearances are much more sporadic than they once were.

 

85     Charles Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie)

When I was a kid I loved Little House, although I’ve never read the books on which the show was based. The patriarch of the Ingalls clan is Charles, a hardworking farmer. Throughout the series Charles is portrayed as a solid husband & father who does his best to take care of his family and raise his children right. He is a generous, tranquil, vulnerable yet tough man of faith, the kind of person anyone would be happy to have as a friend, employee, & neighbor.

 

84     Elaine Benes (Seinfeld)

Jerry Seinfeld is a talented writer & comedian, but his acting chops are…less than impressive. However, though you will not be seeing Jerry’s interpretation of a fictionalized version of himself on this list you will see three of his buddies, starting with former girlfriend Elaine. NBC felt that the show, as originally constructed, was too guy centered and asked that a female be added to the cast. Elaine & Jerry had dated at some previous point in time but had settled on being “just friends”. She’s no shrinking violet, routinely standing up to the guys and literally pushing them around. We all know women like Elaine. They’re quite feminine & not tomboys by any means, but they just seem to mesh better with men and don’t really have many gal pals. Elaine is self-confident, brash, intelligent, & just as neurotic as her friends. Much like Jerry she is shallow and difficult to please, meaning she bounces in & out of relationships looking for something she’ll probably never find. She is educated and somewhat professionally successful, though she does have multiple jobs over the course of nine years. I’m not sure I would call Elaine a role model, but she was a welcome addition to the Seinfeld wolfpack and gave us many hilarious moments.

 

83     Gomez Addams (The Addams Family)

The Addams Family was based on cartoons originally published in The New Yorker in the mid-20th century. The family patriarch is Gomez, an eccentric & wealthy businessman who at one time was a lawyer. He enjoys fencing, smoking cigars, throwing knives, crashing toy trains, & being romantic with his wife. What many may not get about the family is that they are not monsters or any kind of supernatural beings…they are a human family who just happens to be really weird, and the fact that Gomez is supposed to be the normal one is hysterically funny. The TV show was on in syndication a lot in my childhood, and two rather entertaining feature films were produced in the early 1990’s.

 

82     Carlton Banks (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)

Believe it or not Will Smith isn’t the best part of his own television show. First we have to give a tip o’ the cap to the theme song. I don’t even like rap “music” but almost thirty years later I can still bust out the Fresh Prince theme. Secondly there is Will’s erudite & pompous cousin Carlton, who takes the uptight preppy stereotype to a whole new level. He’s such a nerd that as a high schooler he listens to Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, & Michael Bolton. To be honest that makes him rather cool in my eyes because I celebrate those guys’ entire catalogues, but I get the joke. We cannot escape the fact that even into the 1990’s black families tended to be portrayed a certain way in pop culture, and the Banks family…especially Carlton…turned those pre-conceived notions upside down. Carlton’s most enduring legacy is his love for 60’s pop crooner Tom Jones. Anytime Jones’ 1965 hit It’s Not Unusual comes on he breaks out into a hysterical dance that came to be known as The Carlton, and anyone who was ever a Fresh Prince fan can probably imitate it.

 

81     Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg (The Dukes of Hazzard)

In recent years The Dukes of Hazzard has inexplicably become a target of maniacal political correctness in connection with debates about racism, The Civil War, & the Confederate flag, but as a kid I always loved the show and continued to watch syndicated reruns up until they became virtually extinct a few years ago. The main “villain” in Hazzard County is Boss Hogg, the influential, wealthy, & corrupt county commissioner that pretty much owns & controls everything in town. He is greedy, with a voracious appetite for power, money, & food. He and Jesse Duke are former moonshiners & old frienemies. Boss is fixated with the idea of taking possession of the Duke farm, and equally as obsessed with putting Bo & Luke Duke in prison. In almost every episode Boss hatches some kind of shady scheme to put more money in his pockets, and if he can find a way to pin a crime on the Duke Boys in the process that’s fine too. Of course in Hazzard County even the bad guys aren’t truly evil, and despite Boss Hogg’s best efforts the good guys always win and we can’t really bring ourselves to hate him. There was a laughably bad Dukes of Hazzard feature film about a decade ago, and one of the many things they got wrong was casting Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg. Reynolds portrayed Boss as menacing & harsh…an actual bad guy, which missed the mark entirely.

 

80     Aunt Esther (Sanford & Son)

My Papaw Mano loved Sanford & Son. Whenever I’d visit my grandparents he’d watch reruns (the show’s original run ended when I was in kindergarten), which is how  I became a fan. The main antagonist is Aunt Esther, sister of long dead Elizabeth and aunt to Lamont. One of the funniest running gags of the show is Aunt Esther’s contentious relationship with her brother-in-law Fred, as the two continuously trade insults. Aunt Esther is a hardcore, Bible thumping church lady, the kind that gives churchgoers a bad image as she is constantly calling others heathens. She & Fred verbally spar in every episode in which she appears, and whenever he is confrontational with her she comes back with “Watch it Sucka!!”, sometimes swinging her purse at him in the process.

 

79     Herman Munster (The Munsters)

What do you get when you combine a wholesome family sitcom with the monster movies of the 1930’s?? The Munsters. Unlike The Addams Family, who are just normal human beings that happen to be really strange, The Munsters are actually monsters (obvious nods to Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, & Bride of Frankenstein), though they view themselves & live their lives as a typical middle class American family. The patriarch is Herman Munster, an archetypal sitcom Dad who is a good-natured, kindhearted, gentle, loveable goofball. He works at a funeral home (of course), has no concept of his own immense strength, & is clueless of the fact that he doesn’t physically look like a normal person. People routinely run screaming from Herman, frightened by his appearance, but he remains blissfully unaware that people are afraid of him.

 

78     Isaac, Doc, & Gopher (The Love Boat)

The real stars of The Love Boat were the passengers, typically portrayed by famous faces of the day, movie stars of yesteryear, & actors who would do big things in the future. However, we did have the pleasure of having (mostly) the same crew from week to week. Isaac is the bartender on the Pacific Princess, Doc is…obviously…the doctor, & Gopher is a yeoman purser. I spent a great deal of my childhood wondering exactly what in the heck a yeoman purser does, and eventually discovered that he is basically the ship’s treasurer. I’ve never been on a cruise, but I assume that the typical crew is much larger and that there are multiple bartenders, physicians, & business people among them, but for the purposes of The Love Boat this triumvirate worked really well. They interact with passengers, get involved with various storylines on a week to week basis, and are always good for a chuckle or two.

 

77     The Clampetts (The Beverly Hillbillies)

I just can’t choose one over the other. Patriarch Jed is a “poor mountaineer” from the Ozarks (either Tennessee, Arkansas, or Missouri…the show doesn’t specify) who finds oil on his land and receives a $25 million fortune for it. His elderly mother-in-law Granny is a spitfire who fancies herself an expert in home remedies. Jed’s daughter Ellie Mae is a smokin’ hot tomboy who loves animals (i.e. critters). Jethro Bodine is the dimwitted, girl crazy son of Jed’s cousin who comes along when the family moves to California. The Beverly Hillbillies is a classic rags-to-riches fish-out-of-water story made all the more entertaining by these well written characters. Being from West Virginia I have always been a bit sensitive about how “hillbillies”, “rednecks”, & “hicks” are portrayed in the media, but I am oddly unoffended by The Clampetts.

 

76     Luther Van Dam (Coach)

Not long ago we lost actor Jerry Van Dyke (brother of Dick), but thankfully we’ll always have Coach. Van Dyke had an opportunity to become part of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show when Don Knotts left, but instead chose to star in My Mother the Car, which has to secure him a place in the Bad Career Move Hall of Fame. At any rate, more than two decades later he was cast as Luther, the scatterbrained defensive coordinator for the fictional Minnesota St. Screaming Eagles. I have serious doubts about Luther’s football prowess, but he is perfect as the standard loyal sidekick/best friend, and usually has the funniest moments.

 

 

 

 

Let’s take a break. We’ll dive into Part 2 tomorrow. Or the next day *lol*.

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3 thoughts on “100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 1

  1. The shows I actually watched on this list so far would be Eureka, News Radio, Alice, Little House, Seinfeld, Dukes of Hazzard, and Love Boat. Of those, my best memories go to Little House, Dukes, and Love boat. I don’t know if there was ever a role played by Michael Landon I didn’t enjoy, the Dukes were just plain fun, and for some reason the Love Boat was like comfort food in the evening. BTW, I saw your little Sanford joke… 😉

  2. Don, I don’t know if you recall Matt Clark from Infocision. He may have been gone before you arrived. Anyway, he & I were buddies for a few years and he was the one who got me watching Eureka. Aside from him I haven’t know anyone else til now that watched it *lol*.

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